I often find myself traveling with little notice. These trips include last minute family gatherings or clients purchasing new systems and wanting me by their side as they transfer data and confirm stability. Some months I’m gone more than I’m home. However, I’m fortunate enough to be able to work from just about anywhere.
As we get more comfortable in 2008, I wonder how many small business owners have put off real vacations for fear of not being able to check into the office regularly. During the holidays I was hit with urgencies (even on Christmas) and in a rush to finally bow out of the office I forgot to transfer some key files to my laptop.
Fortunately, in 2007, I took some time to put more features into place in case I had to dart out the door. Here are some inexpensive ways to make vacation and business work together.
Portable Hard Drives
Portable hard drives have really come down in price, and with in-store rebates common, I picked up two 120GB drives for just under $200. I run full backups each evening. I swap the drives out bi-weekly, keeping one in a safety deposit box, and the other stays with me at all times. The drives are slightly larger than two decks of cards and are lightweight.
I use Gotomypc.com because I like the features, but Intuit and other companies offer similar services. Each allows you to ping right into your office computer from anywhere, so if you have Internet access, you can reach your files. Just make sure the program loads on startup, and that your systems are connected to a battery-backup source, otherwise power flickers or outages may cause the computer to turn off, rendering the service useless. I love the convenience of remote access but never use it as the sole means of obtaining data.
You’ll need a data plan with your carrier, which can be tedious. But being able to connect to the web and use email software on a handheld device is definitely worth it, especially in places where carrying a laptop around is not feasible. Depending on the device, there’s software available for integrated email (send and receive), calendars and alerts, to-do lists and extensive address book capabilities. I once fixed a store using my Treo while taking a trolley ride through an old city.
When these first surfaced, I thought they were “cute,” but too small and flimsy for me. I now have a 2GB drive I use primarily to quickly transfer files when I’m not on a network. However, I know several folks who use them to backup order processing files and even email account data. Flash drives are also handy if you need to use someone else’s computer and work with stored data.
If you don’t have a laptop, or another means to check POP email, consider using a web mail application — most hosts provide this feature with your plan. You could reserve usage for only when you’re away, and connect from anywhere with Internet access. Of course, if you need access to all previous stored messages, then you might want to consider using IMAP (Internet Message Access Protocol) from the office rather than POP email accounts.
Your Own Space
Using your server space for storage is quite inexpensive — you just pay for the bandwidth. Make sure to backup data outside the public directory, and I don’t recommend uploading sensitive bank records and the likes. You’ll want to transmit files using a secure utility.
Of course, there’s another way to stay on top of business 24/7 — don’t go anywhere. But then, I ask, what the heck are we working for?